Two weeks from now, voters will decide which federal and state politicians to keep and which to send packing. Polls, including the one from Wall Street Journal/NBC News released Wednesday, have shown that some voters are disenchanted with the Democrats and many voters remain undecided. Speaking at the Solar Power International (SPI) conference in Los Angeles last week, Democratic political strategist James Carville summed it up this way: “There is a hurricane coming, and it’s not changing course. It’ll be hitting the Democrats.”
The anticipated power shift could affect some of the policy decisions for which renewable energy industries have been lobbying in recent months, while other questions will go directly to voters in state elections. Here’s a list of hot issues and challenges facing cleantech advocates going into the midterm elections:
2. Premium for renewables. Setting solar electricity rates for long-term contracts, or feed-in tariffs, has been portrayed by many advocates as a must-have incentive to usher in a new era for renewable energy. The policy has worked to spur gigawatts of new solar energy projects per year in countries such as Germany.
Regardless of which party comes out on top after the November elections, it’s unlikely the next Congress will pass a national feed-in tariff, since the subsidy could raise utility bills for consumers and businesses in the near term. The fight for this type of incentive will remain concentrated at the state level. Hawaii, for example, just passed a feed-in tariff for installations up to 500 kilowatts in size. California is working on a program that is dubbed a feed-in tariff by some, even though it’s nothing like the policy that has made such a big impact in Europe. In any case, the state’s goal is to prompt its utilities to buy more renewable electricity through auctions….
5. Extending stimulus programs. At the federal level, renewable energy lobbying groups are busy working on extending an incentive program that is set to sunset at the end of this year. The program, created under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, gives owners of solar, wind and other clean power projects the cash equivalent of the 30-percent investment tax credit. California energy regulators and federal officials have accelerated the approval process for several large solar power plants so project developers can qualify for this incentive program.
Both the Solar Energy Industries Association and the American Wind Energy Association have been lobbying hard for prolonging this program. They are hoping Congress will extend it for at least two more years. Cash programs are popular particularly in economic downturn (i.e. Cash for Clunkers), but a spending program for businesses may not be as popular as one for consumers when it comes to winning voters’ hearts. Matalin, for one, has advised solar energy advocates to avoid using the term “recovery” or “stimulus” because Republicans are eager to change what Democrats and Obama have put in place in the last two years.
The Arctic region, also called the “planet’s refrigerator,” continues to heat up, affecting local populations and ecosystems as well as weather patterns in the most populated parts of the Northern Hemisphere, according to a team of 69 international scientists.
The findings were released Oct. 21, 2010 in the Arctic Report Card, a yearly assessment of Arctic conditions.
Among the 2010 highlights:
Greenland is experiencing record-setting high temperatures, ice melt and glacier area loss; Summer sea ice continues to decline — the 2009-2010 summer sea ice cover extent was the third lowest since satellite monitoring began in 1979, and sea ice thickness continues to thin. The 2010 minimum is the third lowest recorded since 1979, surpassed only by 2008 and the record low of 2007; and
Arctic snow cover duration was at a record minimum since record-keeping began in 1966.
There is also evidence that the effect of higher air temperatures in the Arctic atmosphere in fall is contributing to changes in the atmospheric circulation in both the Arctic and northern mid-latitudes. Winter 2009-2010 showed a link between mid-latitude extreme cold and snowy weather events and changes in the wind patterns of the Arctic, related to a phase of the Arctic Oscillation.
Thanks in part to the Supreme Court’s decision to allow unlimited political spending by corporations and unions, money is flowing into this election like never before. A lot of that funding is coming from corporate sources, and conservatives are receiving the lion’s share of those funds””although because many of those donors are keeping their identities secret (thanks again to the Supreme Court), it’s not easy to trace that campaign cash. But what’s clear is that anyone with a rooting interest in the composition of the next Congress””and that definitely includes business””is apparently willing and able to spend millions to get their way.
For environmentalists, one of the big battlefields is California’s Proposition 23 initiative, which will be on the state ballot this November. If passed, Prop 23 would suspend California’s landmark climate-change law AB32“”which requires the state to reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020″”until California’s unemployment rate’s dropped below 5.5% for four consecutive quarters. Given that California’s unemployment rate””which is currently hovering at around 12%””hasn’t fallen to those levels since 1980, Prop 23 would effectively kill the state’s pioneering climate law.
Unsurprisingly, fossil-fuel interests are channeling money into Yes on Prop 23 campaigns””including the much-maligned Koch Industries, which has spent $1 million on the campaign. Other out-of-state oil refining companies like Tesoro and Valero have spent millions more to support Prop 23. It’s not hard to see why””oil refiners, like other fossil-fuel companies, will be squeezed by Ab32, so they’re exercising their constitutional rights (and shareholder money).
But unlike many other races around the country, where conservative money is carrying the day (and likely the election), in California forces in favor of the climate change law (and against Prop 23) are winning the fundraising battle. As Darren Samuelsohn of Politico reported today, opponents of Prop 23 have amassed some $28 million. Some of that money has come from big-name environmentalists who are donating out of their political convictions. Filmmaker James Cameron””who has emerged as a major environmental figure post-Avatar””has given $1 million to the anti-Prop 23 movement, while California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently held an event at his home that raised $1 million for no on Prop 23.
As U.S. Highway 12 hugs the serpentine banks of the Clearwater and Lochsa Rivers here, road signs bear the silhouettes of the 19th-century explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, with Mr. Lewis pointing off into the distance.
He is not pointing the way for big oil companies, says Lin Laughy, whose gravel driveway abuts the road.
But to Mr. Laughy’s dismay, international oil companies see this meandering, backcountry route as a road to riches. They are angling to use U.S. 12 to ship gargantuan loads of equipment from Vancouver, Wash., to Montana and the tar sands of Alberta in Canada. The companies say the route would save time and money and provide a vital economic boost to Montana and Idaho.
The problem, said Mr. Laughy, is that the proposed loads are so large “” and would travel so slowly “” that they would literally block the highway as they rolled through. According to plans submitted to state regulators, some of the shipments would weigh more than 600,000 pounds, stand as tall as a three-story building, stretch nearly two-thirds the length of a football field and occupy 24 feet side-to-side “” the full width of U.S. 12′s two lanes for much of its course through Idaho.
Environmental activists say the United Nations should impose a moratorium on ‘geo-engineering’ projects to stop the increasing loss of plant and animal species.
During a meeting in Japan, a number of green groups said projects such as artificial volcanoes and vast cloud-seeding schemes could harm both nature and mankind.
This is while some UN officials believe climate change is a major cause for the rapid losses in nature and geo-engineering projects can fight global warming and stop extreme droughts, floods and rising sea levels.
Representatives of nearly 200 countries are gathered in Nagoya to find ways to fight the destruction of forests, rivers and coral reefs which support life as well as economies across the world.
Some countries spend billions of dollars on geo-engineering projects to curb climate change by cutting the amount of sunlight hitting the earth or soaking up extra greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide.
Environmentalists, however, say the risks of such projects are too great because the impacts of manipulating nature on a vast scale are not fully known.
“It’s absolutely inappropriate for a handful of governments in industrialized countries to make a decision to try geo-engineering without the approval of all the world’s support,” Pat Mooney of the Canada-based ETC Group, told Reuters.
“They shouldn’t proceed with real-life, in-the-environment experimentation or the deployment of any geo-engineering until there is a consensus in the United Nations that this is okay.”
China CDM Fund, the government body that invests money from carbon credits, will almost double its available cash for renewable energy projects to 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) in 2012, the vice director of the fund said.
The fund, which manages 6 billion yuan currently, will add as much as 3 billion yuan a year through 2012, Jiao Xiaoping, deputy director general of China CDM Fund, said in an interview in Shanghai yesterday. The money is mainly raised from the cash Chinese companies earn from selling certified emission reduction credits (CERs), Jiao said.
The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the 1997 Kyoto protocol allows companies in industrialized countries to buy carbon credits from developing nations in order to comply with requirements to reduce emissions. Chinese companies have sold 229 million metric tons of CERs under the UN-backed CDM mechanism since 2005, or half of the total, Jiao said.
The fund has been approved by the government to be used for low-carbon research and planning, equity investment, preferential loans to energy-saving and renewable projects, according to Jiao.
China has pledged to cut its output of carbon dioxide per unit of gross domestic product by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels. It has reduced energy intensity by 15.6 percent since 2006 to 2009 and the government has said it may be difficult to meet the 20 percent reduction five-year target by the end of this year.
The research, led by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo., uses observations, gene expression studies, and computer modeling to show that deciduous plants absorb about a third more of a common class of air-polluting chemicals than previously thought.
The new study, results of which are being published in Science Express, was conducted with co-authors from the University of Northern Colorado and the University of Arizona. It was supported in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF), NCAR’s sponsor.
“Plants clean our air to a greater extent than we had realized,” says NCAR scientist Thomas Karl, the lead author. “They actively consume certain types of air pollution.”
The research team focused on a class of chemicals known as oxygenated volatile organic compounds (oVOCs), which can have long-term impacts on the environment and human health.
“The team has made significant progress in understanding the complex interactions between plants and the atmosphere,” says Anne-Marie Schmoltner of NSF’s Division of Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences, which funded the research.
The compounds form in abundance in the atmosphere from hydrocarbons and other chemicals that are emitted from both natural sources–including plants–and sources related to human activities, including vehicles and construction materials.